Flannery Correspondence

May 1, 2010

Men Are from Mars: A Hostile Time to Be a Dad —

Filed under: POPS! — BrianOFlan @ 17:35

December 18, 2009

by Brian Flannery

Babies are made of rubber, not porcelain. The stairs are a great place to play. Bruises mean new discoveries. Crying can sound a lot like laughing. In fact, crying can become laughing so easily and subtly (then back to crying again) that it is best just to keep tickling.

My daughter comes up to me and asks, “Put me in the sky and say, ‘shaken baby’!” She asks this because it’s her favorite game. She runs into my arms, I lift her and launch her heavenward, catch her, tumble her and tickle her screaming, “shaken baby!”

No one else thinks this is funny.

How to solicit applause: Skip a night at the bar to take your girl out to a ballgame; tell someone you work from home or you’re a stay-at-home-dad so you can be closer to your family; pack the toddlers in the stroller and stroll down to the bank one Saturday morning.

The world loves the idea of an involved father. But the applause is superficial. They love the idea of a father who cares about his kids but the reality of male parental involvement inspires a surprising lack of comfort. If you prove yourself a capable and caring father, beware. There are many parenting techniques shared by mothers and fathers but men bring a distinctly male bag of tricks into the nursery.

From mothers a child receives warmth, nurture, nourishment and calm, soothing comfort. From men, they receive their sense of balance, impervious resilience to minor physical injury and other fortitudes of spirit. This reassures the child that Dad is strong, fun, a little bit dangerous but loving. Stub a toe, scrape a knee around Mom, feel free to sob the sad song into her comforting bosom. Around Dad you better take the pain, learn from it, walk it off and grow stronger. Every child needs both — to know someone in the world cares and yet to know someone believes they can hack it.

That rough, unpredictable and sometimes painful masculine attribute to fatherhood is under special scrutiny today. In a world crying out for authentic father figures, firm burping swats, baby juggling and extreme strollering are met with gasps and stern frowns. There are dragons, self-appointed guardians of the universe on the watch, ready to spot the man who dares a public display of rowdy fatherhood. They will spot you and make sure everyone knows they are gasping and frowning. They may even bring up the threat, the ultimate weapon in the gasping frown arms race: “shaken baby.”

Never fear. We’re on to them. These thundering clouds don’t expect us to be so prepared. I will tell you how the Boy Scout’s motto dowses the fiery breath of those who whisper, “shaken baby.” The actual deadly action of baby shaking is a specific repeated motion. Knowing exactly what it is — defining the forbidden sequence — frees you from the fear of it. It not inadvertent. It is the last resort of negligent caretakers driven to exasperation by their own inability to deal with a crying infant.

Paradox: A baby is safest with a father who is roughest. Baby shakers are not devoted dads who gradually take their playful involvement one step too far.

At Daddy Boot Camp they passed along the truth: You can jiggle, jostle, toss and bump a baby in every way except this one violent body-shake, front to back without reinforcing the head and neck. All babies have big heads in proportion to their bodies. All newborns have weak necks, too weak to bear the whiplash. All other motions are permissible.

In fact, healthy daddy time strengthens the neck by being a little rough. No father would make the shaken baby mistake if he had the experience of playful roughness. You learn too much about how the baby works, how much support they need and what feels safe, what feels awkward, painful or dangerous.

As for me, I’m going to toughen them up. Fathers unite! POPS risk gasps and frowns. “POPS” is not an acronym; it is an explosion. Unpredictable, unsettling and prone to make babies cry. That’s how we save their lives.

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